No Fixxed Abode
Big in America, big in rehearsal rooms — but why isn't this dead good pop group dead big here?
They went looking, they went to America, and they went platinum. The Fixx were formed in England, but have had all their success in the States. Yet they're back in town with high European hopes and a thing that looks like a propeller. Jon Lewin interrupted rehearsals to check their passports. Ralph Denyer studied the mug shots.
HERE WE ARE in this North London rehearsal room, talking to The Fixx. Why? Who are they, and why am I here?
Putting philosophical disputation aside (for the moment), I'm here because The Fixx are a big, famous and important pop group. They've had gold and platinum albums, Top 20 hits, songs used in films (now that's BIG business), and they always get featured on television. But that's in the States.
In Britain, The Fixx sell roughly 15,000 of each of their records, which could account for why we know so little about them. Will their new album change that?
There are five of them. I'll let them introduce themselves.
Cy Cumin is the angular, tall, tanned, singer, who does most of the talking.
"The reason I became a singer is that I hate humping gear — early on I had this Davoli grand piano which needed five people to move it. So I gave that up, and concentrated on singing."
Rupert Greenall is the sharp and cynical keyboardist, with an Emulator II, PPG Wave, DX7, and Prophet T8, as well as a host of effects, including a Roland Vocoder and a Yamaha SPX90.
"I never use a sequencer..."
"What about the Linn 9000 on the new album?" interrupts Adam.
"Yeah, but it's just triggering the PPG."
Adam Woods is the talkative drummer. "I practice." ("You swot," cry the others.) "I've got a practice pad that I cart everywhere, and I've also got this D-Drum system that I bought last year, which is great. It's the nearest thing to a real drum that I've come across — in feel and response. I've got a Quark system that enables me to switch between tom-tom sounds. And I've got these black Graphite sticks, made by Rifrite, and that propellor thing is a Pan Man Fan, by Frederico Percussion of New York. They come in three sizes, and sound like a Gamelan orchestra. It's bronze."
Jamie West-Oram is the quiet, rather vague guitarist. He played in Tina Turner's band on her last European tour, and contributed a song to her "Private Dancer" LP. "I met Tina through our producer, Rupert Hine, who also worked on the LP.
Jamie uses two Strat style guitars, bought from Rudy's in New York. They're made from Schecter and Charvel parts, and he's equipped them with EMG pickups, and Floyd Rose tremolos. His rack system includes two Marshall 50s, MXR chorus, now superceded by an SPX90, a Drawmer gate/compressor, a Korg SDD3000 delay, with 9 programs, and a Quark foot-switching system for the effects. The speaker cabinets are two home-made wedges, with JBLs.
"On our last headlining tour, we used a false stage, which we put over the existing stage, and hid all the gear underneath — it looked fantastic".
Danny Brown is the almost silent bass player, who uses an early Trace Elliot 250, Steinberger bass, Wal five string bass with low B, Ibanez chorus, and two wedges with 15in JBL speakers and horns.
"The idea is the sound doesn't go down the mikes, so I point one at me, and one at the drummer. As for the five string, I happened to be in the studio when Mr Wal came in with that bass, so I tried it, and I was hooked."
The Fixx are not a new band. Adam and Cy began auditioning people in 1979 (confessing to Talking Heads and Little Feat in their small ad); Rupert was the only keyboard player to turn up. They called themselves The Fix. Jamie joined the following year, bringing the extra X to their I name. The year after that The Fixx got their break, when producer Rupert Hine took them into the studio to record a single. The band subsequently signed to MCA, and R.H. became almost the sixth Fixx.
"Rupert Hine was the first guy who took us into the studio, so we've worked with him all along," says Cy. He's trusted for pointing out hooks. Whenever I get an idea, I send it off to him, see what he says."
"The reason I became a singer is that I hate humping gear"
"He has the casting vote," enjoins Adam. "When you're running a true democracy, you need one person to say stop or go."
The new LP, "Walkabout", was recorded at The Farmyard, in Buckinghamshire, again with Mr Hine at the controls.
"We only did six weeks pre-production on the album, though Rupert had some of the songs, like 'Secret Separation', for up to two years."
On the subject of demoing, the group confess to owning virtually every make of portastudio available, from the X-15 ("They blow up after six months") up to 8-track, which Cy uses most of all. Though quite often, they admit, they get the best results from a Walkman in a rehearsal room — the way they're recording today.
When the group write material, Cy writes most of the lyrics, while the tunes are written collectively. "When we write, we're very song oriented, which is why the songs are short, say three or four minutes," says Rupert.
"We like arrangements that don't waste time," continues Cy. "One of the songs on the last album was only two minutes long. Which is the one that was picked as the single."
And there we leave them — nice chaps, obviously committed to their art. If you've not heard them before, seek out "Walkabout" on MCA Records, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the melodious and entertaining noises contained therein. After all, can 1,000,000 (official sales for award of platinum disc) Americans all be wrong?
This is a rehearsal studio, so let's talk about rehearsing. "There's a Dutch tour coming up, as a warm-up before UK and American dates. Holland's good, as you have to get across the language barrier, and musically they let you know if you're good or crap - the Americans clap whether it's good or bad."
"We've spent a month preparing for this tour, playing in the management office with headphones on, everyone DI-ing. That covered a lot of the groundwork, so now we're going through the set."
"We rehearse four or five hours a day, five days a week. When we first started we used to rehearse 9-5 every day of the week - that was when we were looking for material, putting the band together. Now that we're going out to play it, we know the material really well from recording it, so we don't want to overdo it. We'd rather approach the songs with less planning, so we might perform them a bit better."
"The first gig is really the first rehearsal — before that you're just getting to the state where you can handle your nerves before the first gig?"
"What makes a good rehearsal??? No, not drugs, it's being aware of your moods, and respecting the other people, not becoming an egotistical maniac. If everyone is in a different mood, then rehearsal is a pain in the arse. But if everyone's really geared, and you're prepared to listen to everyone, then it can be really enjoyable."
"When we're rehearsing songs, we concentrate on parts of them, but now we're rehearsing the set, we work on all of it, then come back to look at a specific bit."
"Unless you play one number after another, it's very easy to put songs in an order that doesn't do them any favours. When you play them all together, you become aware of lifts and troughs."
"It very often happens live, after a few shows, you know from the audience how the songs should change - you pick up from them that this bit should be longer, because it's really happening at that stage. That's something you can never tell in rehearsal."
"Much more attention in rehearsal goes into dynamics - we try to get the dynamics happening."
"We get all the practice we need from playing together."
Interview by Jon Lewin
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